How does the Cardinals' loss shake up the BCS National Championship and American Conference title races?
Louisville's lackluster win over Rutgers last Thursday had many questioning the Cardinals' championship credentials. Friday night's loss eliminates that possibility entirely. Louisville's flimsy schedule simply did not allow for the possibility of a one-loss run to the title game, and a pair of one-loss teams -- LSU and Texas A&M -- are already ahead of the Cardinals in the AP poll. Even if Louisville runs through its last five games unscathed, a return trip to a BCS bowl game looks like the best possible scenario.
Also, the two BCS hopefuls from non-AQ conferences, Fresno State and Northern Illinois, now have a better shot. If the American's champion finishes ranked 16th or lower, Fresno or NIU would only need to finish No. 16 or better to earn an automatic spot, rather than the No. 12 they have to reach otherwise. NIU's currently No. 19 in projected standings, a spot ahead of the Bulldogs. UCF ranked No. 35 entering the weekend.
The American Athletic Conference
Central Florida always looked like Louisville's most likely opposition for the AAC title. With Friday night's win, the Knights become the frontrunner. UCF, now 5-1 on the season with just a three-point loss to South Carolina in the loss column, has six AAC games left to play. Four of those games, including a date with fellow frontrunner Houston, are at home. UCF's two remaining road trips look extremely manageable: A November 16 trip to winless Temple, and a season-ending visit to 1-4 SMU. Barring a calamity, the Knights will be a favorite in every game they play for the rest of the season.
Louisville, on the other hand, is going to need some help. The Cardinals are now a game behind UCF, Houston and South Florida in the standings. Even if the Cardinals manage to tie Central Florida atop the division standings in December, the Knights would receive the league's automatic BCS bid by virtue of Friday's win. The most plausible scenario for a BCS appearance is if Louisville runs the table and a Houston win over UCF creates a three-way tie at the top of the conference. In that circumstance, the highest-ranked team in the final BCS standings gets the BCS bowl bid. Louisville, the only team from the AAC ranked entering this week, would likely hold that tiebreaker. But Houston would have to negotiate a second-half schedule that includes a trip to Rutgers and home dates against resurgent South Florida and schizophrenic Cincinnati. As Card Chronicle writes, Louisville is going to need "a ton of luck" for the string of events needed to occur.
Bridgewater was not the problem against UCF. The junior quarterback put together another stellar performance Friday night, despite the loss: 29/38 passing for 341 yards and two touchdowns. He now has completed 72% of his pass attempts this season for 2,213 passing yards, with 20 touchdowns against just two interceptions. That kind of production gets you a ticket to the Downtown Athletic Club in December.
But it's difficult to see how Bridgewater can actually win the Heisman now, with his team largely off the national radar and two other quarterbacks -- Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Oregon's Marcus Mariota -- putting up similarly spectacular statistics with a broader audience. Bridgewater's Heisman candidacy was as contingent on Louisville's perfect season as his team's national championship hopes. Both are in serious trouble now.